Back from the Brink Nikkie Sedeghat It was my freshman year of college at the University of California in Santa Barbara, and I had gone home to Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with my whole family. After the most delicious dinner of the year at my brother’s house, I had gone home and ... E-luminations
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E-luminations  |   September 01, 2012
Back from the Brink
Author Notes
  • Nikkie Sedeghat, is an undergraduate student at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Contact her at nikkies9@gmail.com.
    Nikkie Sedeghat, is an undergraduate student at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Contact her at nikkies9@gmail.com.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Swallowing, Dysphagia & Feeding Disorders / Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / School-Based Settings / Healthcare Settings / Language Disorders / Aphasia / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Speech, Voice & Prosody / E-luminations
E-luminations   |   September 01, 2012
Back from the Brink
The ASHA Leader, September 2012, Vol. 17, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.EL.17112012.np
The ASHA Leader, September 2012, Vol. 17, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.EL.17112012.np
Nikkie Sedeghat
It was my freshman year of college at the University of California in Santa Barbara, and I had gone home to Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with my whole family. After the most delicious dinner of the year at my brother’s house, I had gone home and asked my mom to turn on the gas wall heater because I felt cold (even though it was only 55°F outside). We had plans to go shopping for Black Friday the next day, but when she came to wake me up, I was unconscious. She immediately called 911 and I was rushed to the nearest hospital.
They diagnosed me with poisoning by carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that had been leaking from the heater all night. The hospital, Cedars-Sinai Medical, could not treat me because they did not have the resources to remove the carbon monoxide from my bloodstream. I was rushed to the UCLA hospital where doctors first induced a coma, then put me in a hyperbaric chamber, a hard-shelled enclosed area that releases pure oxygen at an increased pressure level. I was in an induced coma for four days, and then remained in a coma for the next 31 days.
During the first few days, doctors put me in the chamber two times, hoping that the device would eliminate all the carbon monoxide from my body. But it remained in my bloodstream and, instead of making me better, the chamber’s high pressure slowed my heart rate. The doctors told my family that I probably wouldn’t live much longer.
Miraculously, the neurologist working with me suggested a procedure-hypothermia-that would freeze my body’s organs to stabilize functioning. That, combined with the chamber, worked, and I woke up on December 29, in a haze of confusion, anxiety, and anger. I had lost the ability to move my limbs, to walk, to talk, or even eat. They told me I couldn’t return to school and that I would have to live at home until the school year was over. I didn’t understand the severity of what happened and wanted my life to be the way it was before the accident. Doctors reassured me that therapy would bring me back to “normal.”
Two weeks later I began my rehabilitation, including physical, occupational, and speech therapy. I hadn’t realized I had both a speech and language problem. It wasn’t until I took my first speech and hearing class when I learned exactly what I had trouble with. I had severe anomia, where I knew the thought that I wanted to convey but couldn’t find the exact word for it. I had impaired auditory and reading comprehension, and the muscles that controlled speech production were weak and uncontrolled.
I hated the therapy because it exhausted me and made me realize how much I had lost, both physically and emotionally. I was traumatized to realize how the simplest things, such as typing “www.facebook.com,” seemed impossible. The carbon monoxide had depleted many parts of the brain that execute innate functioning. When I first woke up, the only two words I understood and spoke were “cheeseburger” and “fabulous.” All I wanted was a double-double cheeseburger from In-N-Out, and I knew I was the most fabulous person around. It felt as though I had become a baby again.
Losing my ability to communicate with those around me felt like the worst thing ever to have happened to me. Still, through speech-language treatment, the cognitive functioning that controlled my speech appeared to be improving the most. I had one SLP helping me swallow and chew my food like I used to, another helping me improve the pronunciation of L, S, and K so I wouldn’t slur my words, and yet another helping me recover function of my frontal lobes.
Loss of white matter in my frontal lobes had severely impaired my executive functioning. I would often make inappropriate comments, had lost most of my inhibitions, and struggled with planning and organizing daily activities. I felt hopeless. Still, the spontaneous recovery I experienced in the first month made me believe that I would continue to improve as drastically in the next few months. When I got home, I was determined to return to my normal self. It was very demanding emotionally and physically to come back to the state of mind in which I was before. I lost the determination to continue pushing my way forward because the recovery process was not as fast as I had hoped. After nine months of being stuck in limbo, however, I made the 360° turn back to the old me. I knew I was myself when I had my attitude and spunk back. I continued to see an SLP every week until I felt happy about my progress. I looked forward to seeing him because I had noticed that every time I went, I was getting better and better. My last appointment was the day before I went back to Santa Barbara in September 2011.
As I took my first few classes at school, I couldn’t help but think there was nothing I want more than to become a speech-language pathologist. Not only had speech-language treatment saved the executive functioning of my brain, but I enjoyed each session I attended. It became clear that helping others effectively communicate is my destiny.
To pursue my new career goal, I have begun working with a speech-language pathologist at the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. We work with patients who suffer with Parkinson’s disease and help them increase the volume of their voice, pronounce their words more clearly, and much more. At this point, I want to specialize in helping patients recover their speech after a stroke or coma. Nothing would have been possible without the encouragement and determination from my speech-language pathologists to never give up. I owe my recovery to all of you.
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September 2012
Volume 17, Issue 11